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As a solo practitioner myself and the creator of MyShingle.com, a Web log for solo and small firm lawyers, I’m frequently asked two questions by fellow solos: “What are blogs?” and “What will blogs do for my business?” The first question is fairly easy to answer: Blog is short for Web log, which is nothing more than a conventional Web site with frequently updated content. This content may take the form of short articles, stream-of-consciousness ramblings, or simply a list of referral links to news items or sites of interest, with little value-added commentary. A blog that deals with law-related topics is known as a blawg, a term coined by Denise Howell of the blawg Bag and Baggage (www.bgbg.blogspot.com). As for the second question, it’s trickier. While I’d like to say that starting a blog will magically bring hordes of clients to one’s doorstep overnight, I’d be grossly exaggerating. Moreover, I’d be guilty of purveying the same kind of myth sold to solos (and many other lawyers) back in the late 1990s to connive them into registering for pricey, but ultimately useless, Internet referral services or into investing in expensive flashy Web sites with little substance that prospective clients could not find anyway amidst the heaps of information online. At the same time, blogs — unlike conventional Web sites — have much to offer solos seeking to build and market their practice. Blogs can serve as a “quick and dirty” Web site, help solos keep abreast of new developments, gain visibility on the Internet and notoriety in their respective fields, and make new contacts — all of which can help generate referrals from other attorneys and attract new clients. Moreover, in contrast to Web sites, many of the “out of the box” blog packages are incredibly inexpensive and as user friendly as making a purchase from an online store. In short, though blogs probably will not start the phone ringing in the way that advertising on TV or in the Yellow Pages might (at least depending on practice area), the initial time and cost investments are so minimal, that there’s really no risk in giving blogging a try. BLOGS VS. CONVENTIONAL WEB SITES To understand how blogs can help solos build and market a practice, it’s necessary to understand the differences between blogs and conventional Web sites. First and most significantly, Web sites need to be recoded and uploaded each time a change is made — a cumbersome process for those who maintain their own site and a potentially expensive proposition whenever an outside contractor is used. Blogs, on the other hand, can be updated with the same ease as sending an e-mail. In fact, making a posting to a blog is almost like sending an e-mail to the blog site. Some of the most prolific bloggers update their sites several times a day. Yet sites are updated, on average, two to three times a week. In any event, frequently adding new content encourages existing users to return to the site and, more important, increases the visibility of the site in search engines such as Google, which reindexes the site each time new content is added. In addition, most blogs link to external sources on the Web and to other blogs, and the creation of these links also help increase a site’s Google ranking. Finally, the recent popularity of syndication tools allow Web users to set up “aggregation systems,” which pull headlines from as many blogs as they choose, thus enabling users to follow many more blogs than would otherwise be possible. (I use www.dailywhirl.com, an online aggregator specifically for law-related headlines.) I follow at least 50 blogs on topics as diverse as ERISA and corporate law — sites covering topics entirely outside my practice area and that I would never visit daily. But because of news aggregators, I find myself visiting these sites whenever I see an interesting headline, usually at least once a week. And that means more traffic to those sites, which translates into higher search engine rankings and can eventually lead to added business. For solos, who often practice in obscurity on small cases, blogs can offer the kind of visibility in search engines and online that conventional Web sites and online listing services (like the Findlaw directory or even Martindale-Hubbell) never did. And once prospective clients or referring attorneys can “find” you, it’s a first step to generating new business. But visibility alone isn’t the only reason to start a blog, because visibility alone won’t bring in clients. There are plenty of other marketing-related uses for blogs, which form an important component of an Internet marketing strategy. THE QUICKIE WEB SITE I cringe whenever I hear of solos thinking about investing a couple of thousand dollars in a Web site that would serve as nothing more than an online brochure. Though blogs are updatable Web sites, lawyers can convert them into a professional-looking static Web page for a fraction of the cost of hiring a Web designer. Blog packages can be manipulated to include all the pertinent information of a firm and even an attorney’s photo. The best example I’ve seen of a static Web site designed with out-of-the-box blogware is www.illinoismediator.com. And by starting a site as a blog from the outset, it’s easier later on to incorporate an updated blog into the site. Though generally it’s more efficient for lawyers to outsource nonlegal tasks like Web design or extensive bookkeeping, blogs are definitely an exception. Blog packages are so simple to use that it takes no more than an hour to get a simple site up and running. KEEPING UP Although a blog can be used as a static Web site, updating the blog frequently with content offers far more marketing opportunities. These days, there are blogs that cover a range of legal topics including appellate law, Supreme Court decisions, ERISA, intellectual property, and tech law. But many potential blog topics have not yet been covered — such as bankruptcy or medical malpractice,which have a more national audience, or personal injury, criminal law, or domestic relations specific to a particular jurisdiction. A solo covering these topics could draw not only on court cases but also on newspaper articles to explain various legal issues. For instance, if the local paper carries an article on a large award in a negligence case, a lawyer could use the article as a starting point for addressing some of the underlying legal issues and commenting on whether the award attained is realistic or not. Thus, the lawyer would educate clients and keep current as well. Keeping current in one’s practice area isn’t just part of being a good lawyer — it plays a significant role in marketing. For example, a change in the law provides a good catalyst for contacting clients and advising on changes they may need to make in previously prepared documents, which can generate extra business. And being on top of one’s practice area can impress colleagues at cocktail parties or other networking events, which may keep a lawyer in mind for a future referral. Yet with all of the rigors of practice, how many solos really take the time to keep abreast in our fields the way we should? Blogs not only make it easier for solos to keep current, but also provide rewards for doing so. Any time there’s a new court decision or even an editorial on a subject of interest from the local newspaper, a lawyer can quickly post a link to the source at the blog and add some commentary or not. Once a case or article is “blogged,” the lawyer will then have that information at his or her fingertips for posterity. No more searching the files for that newspaper clipping you wanted to show a client but can’t find. With a blog, all those links are online and can be located with the blog’s indexing system. Also, once a blog starts attracting an audience — and it will — a blogger is then essentially shamed into keeping posts current at least for the sake of the blog’s little band of readers. Finally, as noted earlier, frequent updates increase the visibility of a blog on search engines and make the blog and its proprietor easier to locate. That’s not to say that blogs aren’t time-consuming — solos I’ve consulted estimate that it takes between 20 minutes and an hour every other day to keep up a blog. Some small firms use associates or law clerks to keep blogs current — such as the Supreme Court Web log run by Goldstein & Howe ( www.goldsteinhowe.com/blog/index.cfm). But for solos just starting out, they may have more time than billable matters or cash — so blogging can serve as an investment in their practice. And blogs offer some payback for the time invested in keeping them current. NOTORIETY Every blogger I’ve ever met mentions the “ego factor” as a reason for blogging. I’ll have to admit that as a virtually anonymous solo practitioner, I get a kick out of having a reader audience and being quoted at other blogs. But personal ego aside, the notoriety factor of blogs can benefit business. Once a law blogger establishes a reputation as the “go to” person on a particular topic, especially one that is specialized in nature (like appellate practice or employment law), the media will “go to” them for commentary. I’ve seen fellow bloggers quoted as experts in publications like the New York Times and appear on CNN, while other bloggers have told me that they are frequently contacted by trade publications in their topic area. MAKING CONTACTS I’d guess that there are probably around 400 to 500 law-related blogs (including practicing attorneys, law professors, and law students) so by contrast to conventional Web sites, the “blawg-o-sphere” is still reasonably small. There is plenty of interaction and camaraderie amongst lawyer-bloggers of all types — big firm practitioners, solos, and government attorneys — although most of us have never met. Recently, a couple of blawgers held an online shower for an expectant blawger, and she actually received a pile of presents from the group. Not only does the interaction mitigate against the isolation and occasional loneliness of solo practice, but it gives solos contact with and access to lawyers of all types, providing a great resource and increasing the pool of potential referral sources. NEW TOOLS, OLD RULES Blogs can serve as an important part of a solo’s marketing portfolio, particularly for solos who want to increase online visibility. But they can’t be viewed as a miracle potion to draw clients magically to an attorney’s door. As with any marketing tool, the old rules of marketing such as persistence (in telling people about the blog), consistency (in updating regularly), and discipline (sending out news articles that may arise from a blog, following up on questions from new contacts) still apply. Without the day-to-day follow-up, a blog, like any other marketing tool, will fail. TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED Of course, ultimately, it’s hard to explain much more about blogs — the best way to learn about them is simply by doing. For those solos who still have never seen a blog, they may want to start visiting a few regularly to get an idea of how they want their site to look and what type of content they want to provide — a couple of editorials with longer commentary or just a daily list of links to new articles. To track down law blogs, I’d recommend blawg.org, which has one of the most comprehensive lists of law-related blogs. Solos who want to see how a news aggregator works ought to visit detod.com or dailywhirl.com and customize the sites to view headlines of their choice. There are several out-of-the-box packages for blogs, all of which are quite simple to use. ( Myshingle.com is based on slashcode, a relatively technical package and not recommended to those without decent technical training.) One of the most basic blog packages is Blogger.com — it’s free, although you’ll have to endure banner ads, and can be set up in under half an hour. (I did so for my blog, www.renewablesoffshore.blogspot.com.) Blogger.com will give users a space to post their site, which means it’s not necessary to arrange for a hosting machine. But the basic Blogger.com package doesn’t offer many options in the way of templates, and because of its popularity, the site is sometimes down, so there may be a delay in making posts. Still, Blogger.com supports How Appealing ( appellateblog.blogspot.com), probably one of the most popular legal blogs. Typepad ( www.typepad.net) is another popular blogging package. It costs under $5 a month and does not require special configuration or a hosting service, so it, too, can be set up quickly. Moveable Type ( www.moveabletype.org) offers more customizable features, but can be slightly harder to install. It’s free for noncommercial use, and a license costs $150, but users need to provide their own hosting service. Even the most-organized solos I know have a “try anything once” category — for those strange seminars or networking events that sound too crazy to be true but, at worst, would result in nothing more than a wasted afternoon or a few dollars in office supplies. I’d definitely put blogging up there in the try- anything-once category — though I guarantee for many solos, it won’t stay there for long. Carolyn Elefant is the principal in the Law Offices of Carolyn Elefant in Washington, D.C.

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